This weekend I had the privilege of racing at the Historic Daytona international raceway, one of the world’s legendary race tracks, known as the “World Center of Racing”, and Venue for the Rolex Daytona 24 Hours; the first race held every year.
My first testing lap was good fun even though it was extremely wet. I couldn’t believe how steep the banking was as I entered onto the track, all I remember was looking up the tarmac then into the sky. Once up to speed and set at 30 degrees on the slope of the oval, the cars tear down the 2.5 mile-long track at 170mph before braking into turn one onto the infield sector.
It was raining, but there was a good chance of it drying out for qualifying at midday. This made it really hard to setup the car because we had no absolutely dry data to work from and all we could do was put on a set of slick tyres and work to our basic dry arrangement.
Qualifying started and it was first out of the pit lane. Taking it easy initially, I allowed two cars past just so I could get an idea of breaking points on the cars ahead. I left myself quite a gap before I started pushing. I was in 5th position which I was fairy happy about, and after two more clear laps I improved my time to 1:51.326, averaging a speed of 115.12 mph. It gave me 3rd position in qualifying. The team had done a great job and the baseline set up of the car felt really good. Getting a P3 for the race after just 6 laps on a track you’ve never raced is a great feeling.
Unfortunately the start of the race didn’t go as smoothly as planned. I went for a move into 2nd place but didn’t quite get the overtake. Before I knew it I found myself defending my position and slipped back to 5th as the other cars slipstreamed past me. I went for 4th position but things didn’t quite work out again – the 07 Corvette made contact with me – resulting in him spinning out in turn 3. Two laps later I was called in for a drive-through penalty, and this was made even more frustrating as I had managed to recapture 3rd place. I made my way flat out back onto the oval, but the pit speed limit of 45mph had dropped me down to last.
After many hard battles, I had made my way back up to near the front of the field. We had made a pit stop during a safety car period, put on new tyres, and fuelled up. The safety car packed the grid tightly allowing me to gain a few more positions, and at lap 30 there was another safety car by which time I was in 5th.
It was time to hand over to John. Our driver change pit stop put us in 8th, and John made good progress making his way back up to 5th. He was hunting down 4th place until 5 minutes before the end of the race when he made the move and ran side by side for over half the lap but couldn’t quite make it stick. He continued to push hard but the chequered flag came down and sealed our 5th place finish.
Daytona was an extremely tough race, but really enjoyable with the repeated challenges for position. With only a third of the championship remaining, we have now climbed up the tables from 8th to 7th.
The next race is at New Jersey on July 16th – 18th for Round 9.